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TikTok teaching and activism with philoso-rapper Nathan Dufour Oglesby aka 'Nathanology' | S2E7

May 10, 2022

TikTok teaching and activism with philoso-rapper Nathan Dufour Oglesby aka 'Nathanology' | S2E7
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In this episode: What's involved in being an artist, academic and activist on YouTube and TikTok. Musical influences from Bob Dylan to Public Enemy. Why make songs and videos about the history of words and ideas? Getting naughty for nature. Performing rap on tap. Teaching as performance. Meditations on the self and social media. BONUS: Nathan and Danu collaborate on a song about the history of school.

About the Guest:  Nathan Dufour Oglesby (aka 'Nathanology') is a poet, producer and professor based in Brooklyn, NY who has built a distinctively didactic approach to hip-hop, using the form to explore concepts drawn from philosophy, history and the physical sciences. He is also one half of 'Nate and Hila' - eco-rappers who take a musical approach to environmental activism.

Nathan's socials:
- Nathanology YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/NATHANOLOGY
- TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@nathanology_
- Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/2CMSPILf0X39kpdhdxVue2?si=ZrSLshY8SNi74OFd7YdedQ
- LinkTree: https://linktr.ee/nathandufour

Recorded 25 March 2022

Links:

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About the Host: Despite never letting school interfere with his education, Danu has nevertheless acquired two social science degrees and an executive MBA. He toils at the intersection of education, technology and society and has worked at various times in teaching, research, project management, business development and customer service. He has so many interests that he has started to outsource them, and his life plan is rapidly running out of alphabet.  [Danu's LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/danupoyner/]

Music: Kleptotonic Swing by Tri-Tachyon

Website: stillcuriouspodcast.com | Email: stillcuriouspodcast@gmail.com
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Transcript
Nathan Dufour:

Long before there was writing, there was literature. In any civilization of which we have record, the way that you remembered stuff was to put it into a song. And if you didn't put it into a song, it's almost like it wasn't real yet. It wasn't the official version until it takes on those rhythmic characteristics that make it repeatable. When you have a song that tells you how stuff goes, it has a certain rhythm to it, you remember it, it sticks in your mind.

Danu Poyner:

You're listening to the Still Curious Podcast with me, Danu Poyner. My guest today is Nathan Dufour, who is a self-described 'teacher rapper' based in Brooklyn, New York, who uses the forms of hip hop and folk music to produce didactic YouTube songs and TikTok videos that explore concepts drawn from philosophy, history and the physical sciences. In today's episode, we discuss Nathan's creative process, musical influences and the kinds of responses some of his videos can get.

Nathan Dufour:

It's divisive in some ways. There's a lot of people who are like, "I'm all about this!" And there's a lot of people who are like, "this is too much internet for today"

Danu Poyner:

We go into the use of philosophy and etymology and why it's useful to look at the history of words and ideas.

Nathan Dufour:

Like finding out the history of a person, you find out what their traumas are and their experiences are, and it makes it a lot easier to embrace those parts of it that deserve embrace and dismiss and dissolve those parts of it that are overdue for dissolution.

Danu Poyner:

And we talk about Nathan's experiences with institutionalized education, both as a student and a teacher, and how he reconciles that with his desire to be an artist.

Nathan Dufour:

My plan A has always been to succeed as an artist and or writer. It's all I've ever cared about, it's always mattered more to me than happiness, you know? The teaching was supposed to be temporary while I got the art off the ground. But I really loved the teaching and I could sense that I was really good at it. So it turned out that the solution was the synthesis. It's not about being authoritative, it's about the joy of losing the self in being a conduit for something that transcends you.

Danu Poyner:

Talking to Nathan was an absolute joy so much so that after this conversation, in fact, we worked together on a song about something close to both our hearts, the relationship between education and school. So stick around for that at the end of the podcast, but until then enjoy the discussion. It's Nathan Dufour coming up after the music break on today's episode of the Still Curious Podcast. Hi, Nathan, welcome to the podcast. How are you?

Nathan Dufour:

I'm doing well. Thanks for having me.

Danu Poyner:

Such a pleasure to have you here. I have so much to ask you about, we have zero chance of getting through everything, but I'm just going to dive in and we'll see where it goes. So you described yourself as a poet, producer and professor, or sometimes as an academic artist and activist, I like the use of alliteration there Who's built a distinctively didactic approach to hip hop, using the form to explore concepts drawn from philosophy, history, and physical sciences. You're also one half of Nate Hila where you're both eco rappers who take a musical approach to environmental activism. That is an intriguing mix. What's the most important thing for someone to understand about what you do?

Nathan Dufour:

That is a great question. Also a nice summary. If I could boil it all down, I guess, it's that I am making songs about ideas and that's originally how ideas were expressed. To reframe that. I tend to think of myself as trying to embody, a tradition that is very old, which is the shaman, the tradition of the ancient griot, which is still a thing in west Africa, the ancient Bard, the person who makes songs about the things that the community has to think about. We have a schism now between, the educational sphere and the entertainment sphere. And I view them as one thing, I was trying to make that more succinct. I think I made a less succinct, but

Danu Poyner:

well, it's an interesting answer. I think it's the kind of thing that comes up after you've had time to reflect on it. It's a very well-packaged answer. Is that how you've always looked at it or was it something more primal in you when you started?

Nathan Dufour:

That's a really good question also. It's certainly been in my mind for a long time. I got into hip hop when I was in high school. And before that I'd been into folk music and stuff probably when I was in like middle school. So pretty early on in the development of my adult psyche. I was fascinated by musics that were formally simple and direct and ideologically complex and rich and didactic in some way. The role of dense and extended information transmission that can be played by a song or by a singer or a rapper or whatever. Just always fascinated me. I was really into Bob Dylan. I was really into Public Enemy. Both of which were things that were not popping off in my own time, but weren't so far back that I couldn't access the sort of, ethos of it. And I was just so fascinated with that kind of music. If I was doing analyze myself from a psychological perspective and we all adopt things that it's like, we can create a niche in which we feel like we can thrive. I also love a lot of hip hop that is more traditional in a sense, or maybe more what people would readily associate with hip hop, the celebration of the self for the celebration of bravado or a battle rap and things like that also really appreciate those forms. Maybe I just felt like I could be more convincing if I was the teacher rapper from a like evolutionary perspective.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. Okay. I was going to ask you about your musical influences, but I think you just gave me a nice summary there. I liked the phrase teacher rapper. Is that something you use often?

Nathan Dufour:

You know, I haven't, I mean, it's a variation on terms that I have used before, but it seems good right now, it feels good. Knowing what your podcast is about and being familiar with it. I have that emotion right now where I'm so excited to pack so much, expression of self from a theoretical perspective into each sentence that it's making it even more difficult, like when you've been like excited to go to the dance for months, and now you're like nervous in your suits, that's how I feel right now.

Danu Poyner:

well, maybe we should talk a little bit then about what the content you're actually producing is about and what it's like. Maybe you could walk me through the process of making a song and a video, how you choose the topic, how it gets onto the content platform.

Nathan Dufour:

Yeah. I guess there's various different ways. It's been an evolving process, but here's how it goes right now. I will either come up with an idea for something that I feel could use some elucidation, whether it's a philosophical idea, like an idea from the history of ideas, I'll do a lot of stuff about ancient philosophy. And how it may be relates to today or ecological topics. Like what do we do about plastic pollution or, people should know about composting. It could be something very tangible, like the latter or a very ideological, like the former. And then versify it basically, I try to provide a verse introduction to a given idea and in doing so, gently, but, rigorously insert my own ideas about that thing. There's no such thing as a neutral introduction to anything, but I also don't want it to come off as being surely neutral either. I have my own interest in these things, and then I try to make the song introduce the idea as a thesis and then provide a possible antithesis to it, like a possible objection, and then synthesize it in some way. Probably the song of mine that's spread around the most is an introduction to critical theory. The reason I wanted to do that one was just, it's just something that came up a lot in life, the culture of critique, which is related to phenomena that we experience right now in internet discourse and stuff like that. And what it is and what it has its roots in. It's a term that I feel like I heard people talking about this idea often, but they didn't know what to call it. It's like, oh, there's a word for that. Maybe you don't know it. If you're not steeped in that particular little sphere of academia or the humanities, here's what it is. Now. You can recognize it and make your own decisions about it, and then try and map onto it, how it affects what's going on right now, and possible objections to it. And to meet those objections in some way.

Music Clip:

The theory is a clear and objective description of that, which exists. How it is, how it isn't by history or science or some defined as so theory goes, if you hold the opinion, that truth is so easily known and envisioned. But what of quote truth is, you know, it is hidden by myths. You've been told that you don't know you're living. And what if the powers that be control, how the truth get. And even how science and history are written and even the means of theorizing is conditioned by the interest of those in the power position. theory is what Neve criticism. And this is called critical theory. It's meant to. To sit down with the ship. And call out the system. What system is it? It's capitalism. Greg now. They tell me that says bad.

Danu Poyner:

is interesting. You mentioned the critical theory video. That's certainly how I came to find out about you. Someone shared it with me. And I thought, I've never seen someone talking about these things in this lucid and succinct way, let alone in this kind of form and I was just really intrigued.

Nathan Dufour:

Yeah. It was quite surprising to me when that song spread around for two reasons. One, because it was almost a year after I'd released it. It didn't really go anywhere. And then I converted it to vertical for tick tock. Tick tock has really been proven to be the gateway now for expanding audience, but then also, Evolving my process in such a way where I'm getting suggestions from the audience and having that shape what my next moves are in terms of what I want to discuss. It becomes very clear in some ways when people's comments are like, oh, can you please talk about this? Like that critical theory video, probably just because of the name led to people being like, oh, could you do one on critical race theory? Because people, they hear that phrase obviously. And then they think of critical race theory since that's so much in the news.

Danu Poyner:

Who is the audience? Are you setting out to build for a particular type of person or are you letting that come to you, how does it work?

Nathan Dufour:

I have several ways of thinking about that. I love your questions. I like your podcast Danu. I'm a very happy to be here. But yeah, the audience, that's a good question. I think in the most general sense, what I keep arriving at in many ways is that the only way you can avoid being disingenuous in your creativity, or as a teacher, just in general, when you're addressing a thought is you have to be addressing yourself as if you didn't know the thing you were about to say in that moment. Obviously you make some guesses about how much this alternate version of you knows or doesn't know, but as an artist and as an instructor, this is what I learned, address yourself as you would want to be addressed, aesthetically scratch every little itch and just make it feel right for you. And then I'll make it feel right for another, which brings up a whole larger set of questions about, how we relate to one another and even phenomenological questions about our interaction with reality, but we'll bracket those off for a second, but that's the sort of broad thing that I've arrived at. Make introduction songs to various topics that I would enjoy listening to. And that would make me feel like, okay, I get it now. I understand. On a more specific level, I'm learning that my audience is the same people that I was teaching in college up until a few years ago I just stopped teaching recently and I'd been teaching at City College and Hunter College, which are both within the city university of New York system here in New York city and teaching undergrads. I started out doing that when I was not much older than them. I'm 34 now. And I started teaching when I was around 24 or something. So a lot of students were my same age or just a little younger, just a little older and I really was connecting with that audience at that time as a teacher. And I feel like it's still the same people who are mostly commenting and reacting to stuff. Again, it's like a mirror of myself when I was in high school. I was a very poor student. Not because I wasn't interested in the information because I rejected the institutional modality that I found myself in and the teachers that I connected with and some of the most important people in my life were the teachers that were like, okay. I recognize that your intellectual commitment here is sincere and vivid and vigorous. And we're going to reward that. Those are the people that I feel like I'm addressing. Honestly, those are the people that are reaching out to me. Since I quit teaching in the formal institutional sense, there's many things I miss about it, but I have found that I have just as many questions to answer as I did back when I was lecturing in that forum. And the difference is this I've subtracted the element where there's questions about when such and such do, or what's going to be on the test, which was always my least favorite kind of question. Now it's like folks being like, Hey, what do you mean by that? Or what should I read now? And then I find myself doing the same kind of commenting and questioning on other people's stuff. If they're being creative educators on social media and stuff.

Danu Poyner:

Wow. That's so interesting. I think assessment is more than anything else the thing that derails the promise of education and creates a big distraction. As soon as you take that out of the mix, you can go back to a more curiosity based conversation.

Nathan Dufour:

totally. I feel like there should be a book or a list someplace of things that modern civilization takes for granted that are way younger and less necessary than we assume. Near the top of that list, I would say, institutionalized education, mandatory education and mandatory assessment as things that we just tend to think, oh, this must have been going on forever and not realizing that it's a relatively recent addition to the process of education. Very tied up with other developments in industry, in economics. It's just a modern thing that we really should re-examine whether we need it or not.

Danu Poyner:

You mentioned that a lot of the content that you're making, has something to do with the history of ideas. I really liked the phrase history of ideas, because I think it's not something that always occurs to people that ideas have a history and that all of the practices that we live out are embedded in social and historical context. It's really powerful to name those things and do a genealogy of them as it were. Is that something that you're consciously doing? Cause you're doing that and also you have a lot to do with etymology in your videos and the history of words. That's also very important. Isn't it?

Nathan Dufour:

Yeah, I think that there's not a very hard line to draw between philosophy And the history of philosophy or between generating novel ideas and examining their history. It's almost like a therapeutic exercise, not in the sense of making you feel good, but in the sense of a psychoanalytic exercise, where you're taking an inventory of the ideas, that condition, our current reality, and trying to find out what their origins are. And the other thing about an idea. When you find out the history of ideas, like finding out the history of a person, you find out what their traumas are and their experiences are, and it makes it a lot easier to embrace those parts of it that deserve embrace and dismiss and dissolve those parts of it that are overdue for dissolution. You learn about what makes somebody have a chip on their shoulder, and then you can understand them and then you help them take that chip off their shoulder or whatever. It's similar with ideas, whether that's a socio-economic idea like Marxism capitalism, critical theory, critical race theory, where no matter where you stand on it, you in fact will have, a nuanced and multi-lateral relationship with it if you, in proportion, as you research it and find out about it.

Danu Poyner:

By putting these things on the table, it means that you can have a say in what happens next, rather than these things be something that happened to you. Recover that participatory sense in the society. That's one of the powerful things about doing that kind of work.

Nathan Dufour:

Absolutely. And Yeah. I think, there's a popular assumption, at least in American culture. I don't know how it expresses itself in different places in the world, but in my little niche, I find that there is a popular attitude that projects on people in general, a very low capacity for nuance and a very low degree of interest in nuance. It's one of the most principle modern myths that everybody wants to be on a certain side and wants to have just the surface understanding of things. But I don't think that's actually true. For instance, in the shows that we watch. Everybody has the capacity, as has been amply evidenced, to follow the intricacies of a really complex Netflix show or something like that, or a show that has 17 seasons and to know all the little nuances of character that are involved there and to appreciate the subtlety that goes into it, it's an extraordinary achievement creatively and, in terms of audience retention. People do have that capacity. It's just that most of our modes of information transmission encourage extremely redacted and, therefore, opposition generating modes of discourse. It doesn't have to be that way though. It can change.

Danu Poyner:

Absolutely. One of my favorite quotes that I have actually stuck on my wall is a Gloria Steinem quote, where she says ordinary people are smart and smart people are ordinary.

Nathan Dufour:

That's beautiful.

Danu Poyner:

it's beautiful, isn't it? It really, we underestimate the capacity that ordinary people have for dealing with complexity and nuance. One of the best books that really changed my mind about the stuff is a piece of research that was done in Australia, Ordinary People's Politics, and they just did in-depth interviews with a whole bunch of people from different walks of life, about what they thought about politics. And it's so nuanced. It's the understanding of the issues of the day and being able to parse the media commentary of it and tell what bullshit the politicians are saying, but also understand where different people are coming from. It's just so sophisticated. Then you realize, of course it is because I talk to ordinary people all the time and that's what they're like.

Nathan Dufour:

Both. are operative. Yeah. It's very true. It's also true to be fair that, from my own perspective, I can say a statement like I just said, and agree with the one that you just said. And then I can also have other moments where I'm truly astonished at the idiocy, but even that, speaking of etymologies idiot is one of my favorite etymologies because it comes from this Greek root 'idios' 'idion'. An adjective that means one's own belonging to one's self. In its original context it came to me in the meaning, it has not because of somebody's lack of intelligence, but rather one who holds oneself aloof from the matrix of political and social concerns that belong to the Polis to the city. If you're being just on your own, as in idiosyncratic, and we tend to think of it as stupid, like you can't keep up, but there's more of an elective type of thing that the word implies, that it's somebody who is remaining for whatever reason, locked in or stuck in their own bubble. Not a lack of capacity. In that sense, there is a tremendous amount of idiocy, but it's not like some sort of incurable, lack of intelligence. It's not a gap in there neurological fiber. It's whatever blockages internally or externally are preventing people from understanding one another, that's what idiocy consistent, which is also important.

Danu Poyner:

I love that. I hadn't considered that. Do people latch onto your etymological readings? I see you had a piece in the BBC about the etymology of the word meta when Facebook changed its name, was the response to that like?

Nathan Dufour:

It was mostly a bunch of people who'd misunderstood the article quite a lot. It was strange. People were mad. They were like, oh, Mehta also means such and such in this other language. Why didn't you mention that. There was a number of misunderstandings where I think I needed to be maybe more clear about what I was saying. Etymology, in its origin is a gesture that comes from the analysis originally of Indo-European languages specifically, which has its own language family. So there may be things that have the sound of Metta in other languages and they just don't happen to be related, but a lot of people felt that it was wrong, that I left those things out, but that was not the point of the article, which meant that they missed the point of your article. But maybe that was my own failure in the first place.

Danu Poyner:

No, I think that's one of the things that makes me so fascinated about what you're doing, because it's so weird, really. It's not something that people come across very often and you're sort of inviting to be misunderstood by the vast majority of people. I think, except for the small amount of people who latch onto it, that's just the impression I have. I don't know whether that's the reality that you're living.

Nathan Dufour:

Yeah, it's like an ongoing dialectical process. I know that the audience can grow, one cause it is growing and two, I just have this faith that as I become more and more comfortable with what I'm doing, I will refine more and more what's important and what's less important and be able to connect with more and more people by virtue of doing that. I also see that evidenced by other people. Are you familiar with Philosophy Tube? Abby happy something is her name. I forget the name of the woman who runs it. But she created this channel that's been going for years and it's got millions of subscribers and introduces philosophical ideas in a rather theatrical way with a good deal of performativity involved in it. In other respects, it's very simple, but there's like costuming and conceptual ideas and stuff. And you know, that works. I've confidence that if I can keep on refining and keep on producing at an adequate rate, that same thing will happen because people do like to know where words come from. They put an extraordinary amount of faith in it because people do have a mystical side to them too. And they really want to attach their understanding of things to the ancients in some way, for better and for worse. But the responses to those are funny sometimes. There was one I did on the word government, which again was a request, somebody to ask me to do it and somebody else just went to town on the comments that I had left off the suffix meant, which is true. Meant mentum is just, uh, now making suffix in Latin. And so we have a lot of meant words and they were like, no, that comes from mental, which it does not. Although mental also comes from Latin because the government is trying to control our minds. There was like this conspiratorial

Danu Poyner:

that they're trying to control their minds and they put it right

Nathan Dufour:

and they put it right there in the end and they fooled you too. So Yeah. sometimes there's controversial responses.

Danu Poyner:

Well, it strikes me that you. Trying to very consciously create a new kind of category of thing, but also continue an old tradition that's well established, as you say. How do you think about that?

Nathan Dufour:

Hmm. To restate the way in which I feel like I'm doing something old, I just mean that the earliest philosophers in any given tradition, whether it's the quote unquote Western tradition, the one that begins in Asia minor and then exists in Greek and Rican Roman worlds, and then spreads to Europe, was originally performative in the sense that these people were poets and had a artistic way of getting their ideas across and the same is true for other traditions. So the idea of transmitting philosophical knowledge artistically is as old as art and philosophy itself, wherever we have record, not just in the west. In that sense, it's ancient. In the new sense though, while that's the case. And so I'm constantly invoking the image of the performative sophist or the Bard or whatever. I also want to be careful not to mash that onto the modern moment, because everything is different and new always, and we should always be involved in a process of realizing the ways in which we're repeating what's come before, but also realizing the ways in which what we're doing is incomparable and radically novel at any given moment. So it's not to lock it into a category that it isn't. I think another way that the interplay is different is that, in a lot of my writing, I've explored analogies between the historical conditions of ancient philosophy and those of the modern world vis-a-vis the internet where you have a lot of people competing in a marketplace of ideas. I do think those analogies hold, but I also think they always need to be taken with a grain of salt because in many ways we are dealing with something that's radically new. I guess both need to be kept in mind.

Danu Poyner:

How did you come to choose the video as a medium that would be a good format for developing and transmitting your ideas?

Nathan Dufour:

that's a good question too. I kind of stumbled into it. Never aspired to be a video artist per se. Except when I was very young, I always imagined I would make movies, but then I certainly forgot about it in the course of most of my adult development. And then it was definitely around the pandemic that I started making a lot of them and making them an earnest because the performance opportunities dried up completely and. It became the main sort of occupation. I was doing it a little bit before then, but I just very much realized that that was the mode of transmission. It's a very total art form. There's a word in German. It's a very long word that Wagner had for why he liked opera. Do you know the word that I'm

Danu Poyner:

uh, Is it gesamtkunstwerk or something

Nathan Dufour:

That's what it is. Yeah. It's gezamtkunstwerk. It's that type of form. I think of that sometimes. It engages all of the senses. My goal with the video, cause I do a lot of kinetic texts and you're seeing me they're rapping and performing and using animations and stuff like that, there used to be a show called schoolhouse rock here in the states, like Sesame street and stuff where they have these educational videos that really engage the whole psyche of the young person, but I want to make these for adults. But then another way that I think of it is that it's literally with the music and everything, it is the shape of the thought itself, the way that the words move to just completely engage. In that probably my main influence, again this wasn't a conscious choice but it's just how things develop, um, deeply influenced by William Blake when I was younger and Blake, we remember him as a poet and that's perhaps was his most distinct gift. However, he thought of himself as principally a visual artist and he made these illuminated books where he would make engravings and then print his own little books. His poems were meant to be viewed as these art books essentially, and read and sung in that context and experience in that context. And he made it all himself. He was like a one man factory and he really never succeeded during his life. So whenever I'm worried, like, oh, I haven't blown up yet. It's like, wow. out for Blake. mean,

Danu Poyner:

well, I did not know that about William Blake. That's so interesting.

Nathan Dufour:

yeah. The books are very beautiful they are really something.

Danu Poyner:

Okay. One of the things I always ask everyone who comes on here is, did you have a plan a for life and what was it and what happened?

Nathan Dufour:

Hmm. That's also an interesting question. My plan a has always been to succeed as an artist and or writer. It's all I've ever cared about. That's been the altar on which I've sacrificed everything in terms of life. I don't mean to say that to be dramatic, I just mean it's always mattered more to me than happiness, you know? However, I've been slow to do it because I think I've had some issues of confidence and faith in myself or faith in general that I think I'm resolving now. So the reason I Was teaching was the teaching was supposed to be temporary while I got the art off the ground. But I really loved the teaching and I could sense that I was really good at it. So it turned out that the solution was the synthesis and the synthesis happened in spite of me, of its own accord rather.

Danu Poyner:

Was there a moment when you had that realization with that clarity?

Nathan Dufour:

There are some revelations. I think that one has continuously and also repeatedly. I feel like on more than one occasion I found myself telling a friend like, oh, don't you see? I'm teaching and making songs at the same time. They're like, I know that's what you've been doing. Sometimes other people realize it earlier than you. I think it was that kind of process where I was doing it naturally. And then the theorizing comes later.

Danu Poyner:

Absolutely. What was the first song that you made?

Nathan Dufour:

Ever in my life, God. Oh, I don't even know. Long before I could write songs myself before I knew how to do it, when I was really young, I had an elaborate fantasy world of musicians that don't exist. It was like a whole parallel universe of pop stars and rock stars and rappers and everything that wasn't real. It existed parallel to our real world. I would sometimes write the lyrics of the songs that those artists made, like a Tolkien sort of legendarium, a history that wasn't real. I guess those were the very first songs that I made. As far as, once I really started writing songs. When I was first in a band, it was a punk band type of thing, not really a punk band in the typical sense, but In the sense that we weren't gifted at our instruments. The earliest song that I made, I think that was didactic. I can tell you that. That was probably like a good 10 years ago or something. It was a song about making bread. I thought it was funny to have a rap song about making bread because bread is like you're making money, but then it was literally going to be instructions for making a sourdough loaf. So that's what it was. Yeah.

Danu Poyner:

It'd be cool to hear that. Let me know if

Nathan Dufour:

can try and dig it

Danu Poyner:

from somewhere.

Nathan Dufour:

It's very primitive sounding cool.

Danu Poyner:

You use this word didactic a lot and one thing I always ask people as well to do on the podcast is explain something as if to a ten-year-old, it's like what you said before about addressing yourself as if you didn't know, to get that sense of wonder. Can you tell us what didactic means as if to a 10 year old?

Nathan Dufour:

Yeah, totally. Didactic is just a fancy way of saying teaching. Something that teaches. Didactic art is art that teaches you stuff. Didactic poetry is poetry that teaches you stuff. Didactic music is a song that teaches you stuff or music of some kind that teaches you stuff. The word, 'didaskalos', in Greek meant, a teacher, somebody who tells you about something you didn't know before and that type of art, even if it seems rare right now, is something that used to exist a lot. So the kind of stuff you see on Sesame street, where there's a song about the number two. Or schoolhouse rock where there's a song about how a bill works when it goes through the legislature or whatever. That kind of thing used to actually be very common. That's what is meant by that.

Danu Poyner:

You've mentioned a couple of times how well, some of the us cultural stuff translates over here. One thing, every single person who has a similar childhood to mine in Australia and New Zealand would know would be the Sesame street, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. So It really sticks in the mind and probably also less so the passing of a bill song, but more of the Simpson's parody of that song also is something that a lot of people know. These things really do stay with people. Is that

Nathan Dufour:

Totally.

Danu Poyner:

of the form.

Nathan Dufour:

Absolutely. It's all about memory. It's so vital to keep in mind the role, that memory plays in our experience of reality. And so the role that it plays in culture, it's the core of the whole thing, because you can't experience things with any depth, if you can't remember them and develop a relationship with them thereby. To put it mythologically, here's how the Greeks thought about it. They thought of the amuses, the ones who create poetry and song and stuff, or inspire poetry and song as the daughters of memory that the daughters of Zeus, the head of the Olympian deities and memory, the goddess who personifies memory, Mnemosyne. So the muses are all about remembering. That's how they put it mythologically. What does that mean? Well, it means that when you have a song that tells you how stuff goes, it has a certain rhythm to it, a certain meter, a certain melody. You remember it, it sticks in your mind. The reason that didactic poetry is so relevant in that context is that there wasn't any way to write things down at first. Long before there was writing, there was literature in any civilization of which we have record the way that you remembered stuff was to put it into a song. And if you didn't put it into a song, it's almost like it wasn't real yet it wasn't the official version until it takes on those rhythmic characteristics that make it repeatable. When writing as a technology and when print culture, not print in the sense of the printing press, but the culture of books and written word first became a thing. For instance, in the Greek world, a lot of people were skeptical of it because they were like, this doesn't seem necessary. First of all. And also we're going to have too many people expressing themselves. And also it's going to be bad for memory. Literally, that was a worry that Plato had for instance, is that there's a corruptive influence in writing stuff down. You can imagine how in many ways that same problem is redoubled or exponentially augmented once you have the printing press and widespread publication of stuff. It's mind boggling to imagine the exponential reduplicating of that again when you have internet culture, as we have. Instantaneous information transfer because in some ways it cheapens the relationship with the content itself and makes it so you're not remembering it. Your individual, finite organism no longer becomes the bearer of knowledge in its musically embodied form. Rather you're disconnected from it always by virtue of the very technology that allows you to access it always. That's the pessimistic way of putting it. Others would say that it's okay. Why do we need it to be in our brains? Is that really better or more important than it being just someplace in this middle space? It's mediated by another physical entity that's to say the internet as a physical entity.

Danu Poyner:

I want to talk a little bit about your process more. One thing that strikes me listening to your songs and watching your videos is how tight everything is. Every moment is considered. There's a real harmony between the lyrics and the argument that's coming through and the way you produce the video, it's all really tight. I assume that you're starting with what you just talked about, which is trying to make something that's good for memory.

Nathan Dufour:

Yeah, it's a real balancing act. I'm still very much in process with this because, and this is still the case to a degree for a long time, there was a very demarcated difference for me between when I was doing an educational song versus just a song. There were literally had those two different buckets in my mind. And the educational song was one that I'd be very considered and measured about almost like a very classical enterprise of building like a classical statuary or a classical Portico with columns or something very orderly. Then when I was just jamming and making songs, they actually sounded different and they just were more flowy and more open-ended, but in some ways more listenable. That's the middle ground that I'm really trying to complete that fusion, which is almost like a ongoing spiritual exercise. One thing that I've learned that took me a long time to learn is that the music both in the full sense of the muse and an almost mystical sense, and literally in the terms of instrumentation needs to come first in many ways. You need to be writing with it. The words in the music should be inseparable rather than I think what I started out doing, which is I would start with a text and mash it onto a beat, which I think a lot of people who are more musically inclined again, just in the typical sense of the word musical would probably have known that for a long time. I'm radically, verbally inclined. I have had a tendency sometimes to perhaps abusively, run around like smashing my words into and onto things but it needs to be a little bit more flowy.

Danu Poyner:

What do you do on the music side? Are you creating the music yourself?

Nathan Dufour:

Yeah. It's half and half. Sometimes I'll make the beat and sometimes I'll collaborate with somebody or get their beat. I prefer to do it myself. It just takes me a long time to do it because I always know that What I want to hear, but I don't have the most developed chops as a producer in the technical sense. I can play instruments, but I'm not a wildly talented instrumentalist. I haven't really invested time in that.

Danu Poyner:

What do you play?

Nathan Dufour:

I play guitar and banjo and harmonica. Those are my original instruments from when I was young. Other than that, I can use production software and make stuff. I really wished that I could play keys that would make my production skills a lot sharper. If you've ever used music production software, or if any of your listeners have, you know that you can make stuff sound amazing, that you can't actually play in real time. You can just place the notes where you want them to go. So I ended up having to do that, but makes the process considerably more taxing less fluid.

Danu Poyner:

I play a bit of keys. Not very well. We should talk.

Nathan Dufour:

Yeah. Yeah. Okay, cool. I, after this, we'll make a beat,

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. Sure. You take a lot of requests, as you mentioned for the book that you producing. Is that something that you enjoy having a kind of constraint and target to hit, or do you find it easier to make your own projects from scratch?

Nathan Dufour:

That's something that I'm still resolving because on the one hand I adore the prospect of getting to answer a question for somebody that needs answering and of getting to find out from cumulated response, what people actually want to understand and know about that they don't understand to know about. I'm not trying to present myself as already knowing everything there is to know about anything that I'm presenting or anything that I get request to present. There's a lot of research on my part. I'm not coming with all the knowledge already in all cases. On the other hand, I have been sensing a gap in what I have presented so far, which is that it's not systematic. I would like to take a step toward the systematic. My goal now is to go, okay, here's the song and the song is the anchor of this topic, but then I'll have three or four other videos that expand on that idea or expound a certain element of it. Perhaps not even a musical form, like here's a zero in on this idea and that idea and that idea, and then make it into a playlist for YouTube or depending on what the particular medium is and become more systematic about it. That will require giving a little bit less credence to what people request and a little bit more credence to what I see in my mind's eye.

Danu Poyner:

That's really interesting. That's using the form as a way of drawing people around a campfire. and then kind of Given your experience teaching as the adjunct professor. I want to come back to what you talked about before, that you rejected the institutional modality. Can you tell me a bit more about what that means?

Nathan Dufour:

Yeah. Rejection might be too strong a word at this point, although it's not far off the mark. I still respect institutions and I certainly respect the people who populate institutions, at least the ones who are doing earnest work there, but that's precisely the thing. This is something that I learned quickly by virtue of my brief stint. It's only been a year of doing this elective online education in a freewheeling way, rather than teaching at institutions Very quickly. I looked back on my institutional experience, both as a student and as a teacher. And I was like, okay, where was that the most meaningful? Well, it was the most meaningful in the situations where there was a relationship between me as teacher and some student or me, a student, and some teacher where we vibed as individuals and both cared a shit ton about what we were talking about. Simply that, and then I look back at the rest of my life and I go, where else have I learned a lot? Well, extra institutional experiences where that relationship inhered, where there was mutual passion, mutual respect, and some sort of vibrational harmony going on. Okay. You really don't need a school building for that. Also in many ways, the obligatory nature of that system makes it more difficult to arrive at those relationships, or rather it's certainly not the most efficient way to arrive at those relationships. So while it might be too extreme to say that my best experiences in school were in spite of school, that might be a little too extreme. But it's near there. It's approaching the threshold of that being a true statement. Again, I don't say it with bitterness in my heart. I don't think that people who are, for instance, involved in the administration of educational institutions, I don't think that they're wrong hearted or even wrong headed in every respect. That list I brought up earlier of things to re-examine it's right there on that list because I think we can do better than it. I also think that it's another place where think of the historical precedents, the most vibrant intellectual communities were ones that formed organically, ones that formed institutionally.

Danu Poyner:

You're talking about stuff that's very close to my heart here, nathan, and in my own experience when I've made that same reflection you had about what has been meaningful and really transformational for me, I think you put it really well about those relationships, where someone you just care a shit ton about them and you vibe in some way. Often the institutional form makes it hard to find those people. One of the most transformational experiences I had at university was this old style thundering professor who was teaching social history of ideas. In the orientation session for that whole program, everyone else did their introductions and then he stood up and said," Too many academics wander around afraid that one day there's going to be an outbreak of clarity". And I was hooked from then and he was into all of the etymology stuff and everything as well. So we became good friends and that's really what saved me. I would not have finished university if I hadn't met him, cause I just wouldn't be able to have handled it. Everyone has these kinds of stories about, one-on-one relationships and people they've met that they really vibe with. Everyone recognizes what that is. And yet we assume and accept that most of what we get in education is not going to be that. I don't know why we accept that and why we think that way. I'm really curious about what you said before that the people who are latching on to and sharing your videos to be people who've had a similar kind of experience. Is that a fair assessment?

Nathan Dufour:

That's my guess. Again, I'm just extrapolating from people's the way they present themselves in comments saying, oh, I wish school was like this. Or, if school had been like this, I would have enjoyed it or things like that. I'm extrapolating from those kinds of comments and also probably imposing a little bit of my own ax to grind on that interpretation. But Yeah, I would imagine that's what it is. As we're talking about it, I'm reflecting that, you shared that story about your. That professor was doing a performance. It's really the best word to call it. It's better than the word lecture. It has a more powerful resonance because that's what they're doing. A great lecture is a performer. They prep, or they don't need to prep because they know their shit so well. They come out there and they sell it. They sell it like a pop star sells it. They just happened to be selling something that is ideological rather than musical. But, like I said, in my case, I'm trying to put those things back together. Imagine we had no educational institutions, but everybody loved going to lectures. We're in a world where people love that now and performative lecturing is like having a heyday like it did in classical Athens and classical Greece, let's say. Now you can imagine how people would start to go. We should make it so there's a place where this happens all the time. Now we should make it so everybody can afford to go to these and the people who make the stuff can also live on it. And then pretty soon you can imagine how every institution that we have education or whatever that is pernicious almost invariably has its roots in very intelligible and intelligent and good-hearted notions. And so, I think right now it's a push and pull type of thing and an ongoing synthesis and sign, shape of a development where right now I think we need to lean into the dissolution of institutions into something more chaotic and more organic, but we also have to allow new forms to come together and congeal that then in their time we'll be worthy of dissolving. Just add additional nuance to it. Cause you can imagine, there are many respects in which the institution does do a fine job. It's not like we need to go tearing down the school buildings. We just need to examine what we're doing there and how and what we required people, when we ask them to go there.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah, exactly. That's good to take the long view. I'm struck again by your impulse to place things in the context of a tradition and this idea that comes up a lot. There's the Pygmalion thesis, antithesis, and then synthesis. And then there's this kind of idea of radical conservatism that we need to change things to preserve what was originally good. And then there's also MacIntyre's idea of recovering traditions by challenging them. This seems like a really important thing. Your consciously taking on that responsibility, it seems to me.

Nathan Dufour:

In some ways. I don't want to self aggrandized myself at all in that regard.

Danu Poyner:

I mentioned it because you said earlier, in a really kind of fiery way that this art and performance to you matters more than happiness. I feel it's touching that. So that's really important to you.

Nathan Dufour:

It is tremendously important to me. I mean when you start to love something, to put it in very personal terms and terms that I think should also be open to critique because in many ways, maybe there's a parable here of where we're at as a culture. I grew up certainly not affluent, but I was comfortable a comfortable white middle-class kid in relatively rural place in the United States. In that situation, there were no externalities that were enforcing themselves upon me, such that I had a great deal of resistance in my self-development. I was just developing how I was, and I was fascinated by culture from a very young age and then became fascinated to such a degree that my love for music led to a love for books. My love for books was initially the beat writers and Kerouac and Ginsberg and stuff like that. But then I wanted to understand every reference they made. And then that led to wanting to read all the books that there was. And this is a commitment to literature and culture in general and this whole sort of thing. That is not what a lot of people's experience is. In many ways, our society's general shift recently toward rejecting the old is not, it's not categorically wrong, cause there's a lot to be said for disentangling ourselves from past ideologies. Nevertheless, I've created this love. I can't not love it. Once you become a classicist in whatever field, whether it's in the typical sense of Greco-Roman antiquity or Western civilization or whatever, even within some other tradition, with a respect and a reverence for the tradition, you can't not continue to love it. It's like having a grandparent or a parent, you're latched to them psychologically, but you can be lashed to them and also be really critical of them. But then when the world in general is not interested in them at all, it's like they're not interested in a part of yourself. Then you have to walk this line of trying to be forever a translator, of a preserver, like a vessel. This is where I said, I was worried about self aggrandizement. I'm not trying to say I'm tasked by some external transcendent force with being a vessel of preservation. I'm also not trying to say I'm not. There's another discussion, but in a way, that's what it is. But many of us play this role with different things that we love. We can even shrink down the context. There's always a price to preserving and a price to letting go. I think of this in the context of hip hop, hip hop has finally, won the game. Musically it is pop music, the modalities, the production methodologies, even the sound of hip hop are at the center. Now that sounds familiar though, because that's what happened to rock and roll. That's what happened to jazz and now rock and roll and jazz, using this as a microcosm for what we're talking about. As soon as they became the apex, they start to self classicise. They start showing up in universities, you can get a degree in them or whatever, and they also lose their mystique. They lose their revolutionary power. They lose their tension between the destination and where they happen to be. There's a loss of energy and an entropy sets in and they start to become less relevant as a culture. But then in order to preserve something as a culture, you have to do a lot of artificial preservation. There's a hip hop collective here in New York city called end of the week that I'm close with. And they're about that. They're about preserving the culture as. And it's like very paradoxical because we need to do that on the one hand. But on the other hand, we need to also be totally okay with it dissolving in our hands. It's both. Somehow you need to do both. The same is true of religion. Religions need to preserve themselves in order to survive and codify themselves and be conservative stick in order to survive. But they also need to dissolve and die in order to remain relevant. ultimately it's metaphysical. We have to preserve our form and at the same time, allow it to

Danu Poyner:

Well, very powerful summation of a lot of things there. Thank you for that.

Nathan Dufour:

Too many things.

Danu Poyner:

Well, I like it. It's interesting that you brought religion into that. And the idea of classes, sizing, and preserving things cause you're into meditation, and you wrote a piece in meditation mag offering a Buddhist perspective on social media and the self. One of the threads you're pulling on in that piece is that our presence on social media exists to reinforce and make the self real. We almost feel like we stopped being real if we're not documenting ourselves on social media, but what does this mean if we also accept that the existence of the self at all, as a kind of illusion, which is what Buddhism would say, is that something you can talk to?

Nathan Dufour:

Wow. I didn't expect that article to come up. Uh it's

Danu Poyner:

my research.

Nathan Dufour:

Yeah. you really do. Yeah. Yeah. I think In this respect my ideas have evolved and I guess now we're segwaying into things that are a little bit more, yeah, maybe have broader philosophical scope. I've been thinking a lot about the amount of time that I spend on screens and thinking of that in two ways, me looking at the screen, but also me being on people's screens. It is some of my being, being on people's screens. We don't have to Wade very far imaginatively or philosophically into various forms of simulation theory to recognize its relevance to what's going on right now experiencially for every human being where a huge part of the content of our day is viewing the content that others display to us and that we display to them, or gazing into the mirror of our phones. As we look at the content that we ourselves have posted publicly. So we have different grades of information, different layers of information, put it in like a pop philosophy sense. We may be at a certain layer of a simulation. Somebody may be simulating us, or maybe the divine simulates us in some senses while we simulate other things. We don't need to go down that road of being the literal simulation necessarily as a discussion topic, nor do I necessarily endorse it. But the upshot of it is a very relevant one. Where do I allocate time and energy and value on the layer that I happen to be, or on the multiple layers that I exist on. I bring it up because I'm at a place where I'm acknowledging that I spend a really significant amount of time and energy making stuff from my phone and that I need to be conscientious about that, but I also need to not reject it as categorically a bad thing, because I can do good there. I think you can be on your phone meditatively. I think that this is possible. That's a way in which my thinking has shifted a little bit. I can ground myself in all of the layers of reality that constitute my physical self. That's what I do when I am on the ball meditatively or spiritually. And I can carry that into the other layers because I'm already carrying it into other layers if I go out my door and interact with somebody. I'm already complicating the. It's all matter. It's all matter in the sense of the physical internet. And it's all matter in the sense of the qualitative and mental aspects of matter. That presupposes a kind of monism where there's at least some sort of identity between physical and mental attributes.

Danu Poyner:

Thank you so much for that. I love that you could just respond to that ball I threw you with a very well put together and well-packaged reflection.

Nathan Dufour:

I dunno. It's getting there. That's an area that I'm still thinking about a lot. I feel like I don't quite have the power to put it all together right.

Danu Poyner:

Well, I'm a big philosophy nerd so I could spend a long time on this, but I feel like I should move it back to something more concrete. Let's talk about eco rappers and environmental activism. You have this album called naughty for nature, which is a collection of songs about how different animals mate. How did that come about?

Nathan Dufour:

That is a product of my collaboration with Hila, Hila the killer, one of the dearest people in my life, and also one of my principle collaborators. She and I started making songs together like a good five or six years ago. there's just a lot of possibilities that open up when you're making a song with someone else. Cause you can start to embody different roles. We can go back and forth. She also is a very gifted conceiver of ideas. She actually more probably than anybody else. Was the person that drew me into environmental and ecological thinking as the cornerstone of what I care about? I'd been on my way to that philosophically for awhile, I was really into different natural theologies and natural philosophies and thinking about the identity of nature and our relationship with nature on an abstract level. But she got me into it on a tangible, literally grounded level. We started making a lot of songs about environmental topics together. And then that one was born out of the collaboration that we have with a venue in Brooklyn called house of yes. Some people sometimes portray it as the inheritor to studio 54 or that culture of nightlife like radical self-expression. It also has a lot to do with burner culture in that sense, radical self-expression radical sex positivity, and it's just a place for really uninhibited expression of self and exploration of. And sex. We wanted to put a show together about how different creatures have sex with one another, both because it's interesting, in and of itself. And because the more you understand how other creatures operate, the more you have a capacity to care for the ecosystems of which you're a part. And because it seems relevant as sexual politics and gender identity become increasingly central to the ideological crises and transformations we're going through, it seemed good to messy up the conversation, even more with some very, bizarre insights into how animals function.

Danu Poyner:

I think that's all neatly encapsulated in the song about honeybee sex called die for that pussy.

Music Clip:

Uh, I'm queen of this colony, but it's not for free. On this cock and ball economy. I've got to take care of the high Brock. We only need you to survive. For long enough to fill in the pig. I'm getting more from them. The sperm bank,

Danu Poyner:

There's a lot going on there. What kind of response do you get to this?

Nathan Dufour:

Uh, it's divisive in some ways. There's a lot of people who are like, I'm all about this? And there's a lot of people who are like, this is too much internet for today. I mean, That particular song is a very elaborately produced music video about honeybee reproduction. It's called die for that Pussy because the male, which really doesn't necessarily even deserve the term of male, It's not even chromosomally fully anything. That's why we call them drones. They have one function, one function only, but they perform the function of the male in the sense of they're inseminating, but they fly around and in a giant swarm, they inseminate a queen from another hive. But as soon as they do so upon ejaculation, their genitals explode and they tumble from the air, having fulfilled their purpose. So it was really gruesome thing and it's too much for some people to handle. Some people find the humor in it. Some people don't. The only reason that it's funny though, and this is a reason that I've actually been re-evaluating sex humor. Sex humor is only funny because of the taboos placed on it. There's a contingency to its humor. Or there's rather a fine line between Rabelesian celebration of the body and its functions and celebrating of the stuff of life versus getting an easy low-hanging fruit laugh, because you're saying a dirty word or talking about something that's supposed to be taboo. They can be almost identical, but there is a subtle but important difference there. We've pivoted since then, honestly, away from sex theme stuff. Our most recent major project is called compost. And it's just a song about composting and meant to be understood by the whole family.

Danu Poyner:

All these things to taking you to some interesting places. What's the most surprising situation you've found yourself in that you couldn't have foreseen when you started out during this.

Nathan Dufour:

Wow. um, There's a lot of interesting situations. With that compost song, We keep performing for little kids, a lot performing for little kids. I never thought I would do that. I was dressed up as a banana peel. She was dressed up as an apple core and we're doing this show in the park and these kids were like coming up to us. A little kid doesn't really recognize the line between performer and audience. They want to grab the microphone while you're in the middle of wrapping, you know? And then you can give it to them and they'll say stuff, which is cool. I appreciate that and It's an interesting mix because there's that experience. And then also, at house of yes, I've ended up performing completely nude, which is not something I ever thought I would do either. And they're not back to back, but they are part of the same adventure.

Danu Poyner:

It's a two very nice and different examples there. I like what you say about not thinking to notice the line between performer and artists. There's a little meme I sometimes have on my wall that says, whatever you're about to do today, make sure you do it with the confidence of a four year old in a Batman costume. Part of the themes in this podcast is what happens to curiosity as people get older. I wonder if you've got any comment on that from the kind of perspective you're coming at.

Nathan Dufour:

Uh, I love that summation of what you're about here. The first thing that my mind jumps to is etymology as we've been discussing. The root of curious, is this word cura which means care, it can also mean concern or worry, or it can mean care in the sense of love. It's both. Care, which is also a term. I forget what the German word is. Maybe you can, once again, hit me with the German word, but care is also a very important theme word for Heidegger, in his philosophy. What's Heidegger's word for care. Do you remember? Do you know?

Danu Poyner:

Pflege is this the normal word? But I don't know. Actually Heidegger might say, uh, It's Oregon. No worries. Curious is neugierig.

Nathan Dufour:

are you fluent in German.

Danu Poyner:

ish.

Nathan Dufour:

Oh,

Danu Poyner:

I've conversational German. It's just a hobby.

Nathan Dufour:

Okay. So that explains. Thank you. I might be messing it up cause I'm not an expert on Heidegger anyway, but it's an important existential word because care is what characterizes our interface with the moment, with everything going on. You're listening to this. You're surrounded by whatever you're surrounded by. You have objects in your space. I have objects in mind, physical objects. I can have various types of relation with these. The way Heidegger would put it as I can have a relationship with them that is just as tools like this is my bottle that I'm drinking from. This is my phone that I use for a purpose. These are my speakers that I use to listen to stuff. And when they stop working, I'll throw them away because they lose their meaning. That's a way of relating to things that we've been really entrenched in, in the course of modern history, but it's not necessarily the only possible one, nor is it the healthiest one for us or those options. That sense of carelessness. Whereas we know with a precious object, a precious object becomes like a precious person, a Teddy bear or something that has emotional value. So we say it's not just a crazy and subjective thing. There's a real thing going on. There's a chemical event going on in terms of the feelings that you feel. And there's a real relationship in the sense that an authenticity happens when we have a sense of care for things. The same as goes, without saying, applies to other people as well, even in a much more obvious ways and in perhaps much more consequential ways that care and authentic. In terms of authenticity of experience where we're really present with one another right now, we're not letting reality just blip by and discarding it as soon as it passes through our fingers. In that sense, remaining curious OSIS, the ending OSIS, where we get the us endings or U S endings from Latin means a bounding it. So to literally be a bounding in care, the notion of going through your life, where everything has a kind of preciousness and mystery to summarize all of this much more succinctly, if you've ever taken psychedelics that sense of wow, everything is filled with consequence right now, you don't take LSD and flippantly unwrap a candy bar. You carefully do it because of the very existential weight of that, which you hold. And if. Exist in that attitude on a physical level where we're actually present with other things and other people on a material level and on an intellectual and spiritual level where every event in history, every idea in history, exhibits the opportunity for care, the opportunity for sincere engagement. Then I think we're living fully and that's no more and no less than that. Just the constant practice of the present moment, which some would describe as a religious pursuit, other would describe as the pursuit of enlightenment. And some would just say as being a full human being, not that anybody can always nail it, but that's the aim.

Danu Poyner:

Well, I'm very glad I asked that question. Thank you so much for that. I read this article not long ago about recovering a sense of wonder. It was in the context of how we deal with the climate crisis and environmental issues. And basically the same. We need to stop thinking of even environmental things in terms of their use value to us and reconnect with them more.

Nathan Dufour:

It shows up in a lot of places, but yeah, the term use value. It's just so crucial to that discussion.

Danu Poyner:

Absolutely. We've been talking a little while. I still got a couple of things I really want to get off my chest and ask you about and one of them is the organization you're involved in called event wrap that offers custom wrap on tap for events, functions, and corporate clients. Is that right?

Nathan Dufour:

Yeah. That's right. So event rap is started by this artist named Baba Brinkman. I told you, I've sort of gradually stumbled into making this career out of rapping about philosophy and science. And I've been like about a year or so into that enterprise a few years ago when I discovered Bob was music and it was one of those things where for me, at least with my fragile ego, like I found somebody doing something that? I wanted to do, but they were doing it on a much more developed level and they'd made a whole career out of it already. And I was like, shit, somebody beat me to it. That was my initial emotion, which is a silly way to feel. I was like, oh no, because Baba is a true master of language. And he has just done so much music about specifically ideas from science and, As they pertain to ecological matters, he's really just done a beautiful job with it. I was initially intimidated, suffice it to say, and then I got over that and I reached out to him and got to know him. And we became friends and over the years got to know each other. And then recently he did a really amazing thing, which is he created this company where he pulled together. All of the people that he could think of that were doing this kind of thing, basically conceptual, hip hop or conceptual rapping about it, this or that topic. And we're able to craft these things, aggregated it all into a system and develop the kind of theory behind it and even develop the kind of terminology for the different types of creative procedures there are for different types of events and things like that. He's the godfather of this thing that we're talking about in many ways.

Danu Poyner:

it says on the website, every event needs rap and I wondered, is that true?

Nathan Dufour:

I don't know if I can say that. That's how I would put it, but I get what he means. I think every event would benefit from some sort of artistic performative or collaborative element. It goes back to things that we're talking about rather than having the entertainment. When you get together with friends, be like the totally passive one of, let's watch something that was made by someone else at a different time. We all know that it brings an extra special life to things when somebody whips out the guitar and start singing, when we sing together a song that we all know. Or if you're hanging out with other rappers where you cipher together and jam. Everybody knows that causes some neurological events that are of obvious value for the organism that you don't quite get from all getting together and watching a movie. Not that that's a bad thing to get together and watch a movie. That's an awesome thing, but it brings that element. I think in that sense, it's very much on the mark to say that, every event could use that because if you go to an academic lecture or something like that, and you hear five panels. I was an academic for a lot of years before I was infusing it with music. I have this theory that almost everybody who goes to conferences is secretly wanting to be someplace else or rather where they want to be is the snack tray afterward or the bar afterward. That's the part. And that's how the Greeks did it. They had symposia, which literally means drinking together. speech or you would perform a song and you would listen to some music. Why are we not doing that?

Danu Poyner:

Well, indeed. Coming back to your earlier points about social media is almost a sense when you do get together and spontaneously do something live that it's being wasted if you're not recording it and turning it into content that you could monetize. Is that an idea that resonates with you?

Nathan Dufour:

Yeah, it touches on a lot of stuff that we've talked about. I can say without reservation, that is a tension that I have not resolved in my own thought, because there was just a moment just now, even just in our conversation where I was thinking oh, I wish I was recording my screen or something, so I could use the visual of this and then get a post out of it. That's weird acquisitive sort of attitude that on the one hand balanced by the fact that the reason to do that ultimately, is to actually exhibit the value of the conversation and share it and folded outward for the access of the rest of people. I don't know, have not resolved that in my mind, but I can probably say with some confidence from experience of my own, so far as. If you're anxious to do something because it's not being recorded, then something in that system is wrong. Something in your attitude is wrong because things that are inducing, anxiety are not desirable.

Danu Poyner:

Given the importance you place on the art. Is there something that you've made that you are particularly proud of more than anything else personally?

Nathan Dufour:

Wow. The question makes me bashful for is not bashful but it makes me think. I do think I did a good job on the critical theory video. It expresses the idea and it's a good song. The main reason I like it is not because of the topic at all. It's because of the musical style. That's the one where I landed on what I want all my music to sound like at the end of the day. Hip hop runs deep in me, but even deeper folk music runs. That's an earlier love. It's deeper in the DNA structure of my selfhood. And in that one, it's a folky song. There's no samples in it. It's just me playing guitar and a simple beat and doing a little bit of melodic elements and stuff too. And there's a little bit of a twang in my performance because that just feels like where I come from musically and psychologically. I want to make more songs like that. You don't listen to it and think this guy's a rapper. You think this guy has given me this music. Maybe there's no word for it in common parlance, but it is just bardic. It's folk music and hip hop at once. I have more songs like that that are underway. And there's some songs on an upcoming album that'll sound like that. It's not so much a matter of pride, but are the ones that I want to listen to the most.

Danu Poyner:

Nice. I really liked that answer. Thanks. If you could give someone a life-changing learning experience, what would it be and why?

Nathan Dufour:

Oh, wow. I'll go with my initial gut instinct, which is it's to teach, I don't think everybody's had the opportunity to teach. It's a very simple act but it's a very powerful act when you're really doing it. Because you disappear, like the 'I' does disappear in a way, when you give yourself to trying to get an idea across, it happens to us in conversation all the time. But then when it crosses over into teaching, maybe in a state of relation, that's very special where you and this person are both stewards or cultivators of the idea. It's almost like an act of worship together where you really are there together. I'm not saying everybody should be a teacher as a job, but I think anybody who has taught knows what I mean, in some sense, in that you get leads little moments, but I don't think everybody gets those moments where they really get to share it. You can tell that people are hungry for it because if somebody has an opportunity to even train you at a job or something like that, you can tell there's a pleasure that gets ignited, but it's not a pleasure that we all get. It's not about being authoritative. It's about the joy of losing the self in being a conduit for something that transcends you.

Danu Poyner:

You used a few nice metaphors there and I can't help but share my own for what that teaching experience is. My favorite one from Hannah Arendt, who says, adults basically have a responsibility to walk young people around the world. I liked that idea of just walking around together and pointing out the things that are interesting.

Nathan Dufour:

Yeah, I like that. It's so beautiful. It's intransitive, you're not doing anything to anything you're just walking. The image of being parallel together. It's non-hierarchical. It's a form of guiding, but not ruling.

Danu Poyner:

Exactly. That's the image I have for that special teaching relationship that you're talking about and the joy and the loss of self that comes from it. That's what I try and hold onto because it's so far removed from the institutional education that we've been

Nathan Dufour:

is.

Danu Poyner:

and the authority and the assessment, all of that stuff. So I just try and preserve that.

Nathan Dufour:

Yeah. I think it's beautiful. It's Socratic too. You know I don't think we do a very good job teaching People about Socrates, although we've done a good job insisting that people learn about Socrates in the west. But the actual truth of the matter is so fascinating. Here's this guy going around being like, Hey, let's talk. I don't know anything about anything at all. Literally coming with that claim, believing that claim and then talking with people until they felt the same way. That's teaching.

Danu Poyner:

I would love to keep talking to you for longer than Nathan. I think we've covered plenty. I can only recommend that people check out your catalog. We'll put some links in. Is there anything that you'd like to give a plug for in particular while you're here?

Nathan Dufour:

Everything and nothing. Mainly just everything. Yeah. My YouTube channel, that's where I put all this stuff that I finished. So Nathan ology, if you search that, you'll find it.

Danu Poyner:

It's been such a pleasure Nathan. Thank you so much.

Nathan Dufour:

Sounds good. Thanks Danu

Danu Poyner:

Hi, it's me again. Remember I said in the intro that Nathan and I have since worked together on a song about the relationship between education and school. Well, as promised, here it is, and you can find the link to the video version in the show notes.